What does the Broadway season of 1968/1969 and this past season have in common? One of the dreariest seasons for new musicals on record and the delight of a production of PROMISES, PROMISES. For some reason, PROMISES, PROMISES never became one of the thirty or so shows continually revived everywhere year after year, but it was one of the three most successful musicals that came out of that 1968/1969 season. And then the show all of a sudden became dated. However, now in the age of MAD MEN it is chic again. Moreover it is good and funny, delightfully quirky and tuneful and is headed by two great stars in Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. Other Broadway stalwarts, Dick Latessa as the doctor and Katie Finneran as Marge (who isn’t a pick-up) are equally wonderful, with Finneran largely contributing about fifteen of the most hilarious minutes I’ve ever seen in the live theatre.
The other big hits of that 1968/1969 season were 1776 and ZORBA. That’s it. Two other notable shows that missed were DEAR WORLD and CELEBRATION. So, the very good, very funny, very topical PROMISES, PROMISES racked up 1,281 performances and then disappeared. The score gave us hit songs with the title song, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” and a kind of cult hit Christmas song, “Turkey Lurkey Time.” This new production squeezed in another Burt Bacharach hit “I Say a Little Prayer” and it felt squeezed in, but Rob Ashford’s choreography made it an entertaining addition all the same. “A House is Not a Home,” was also added and sat in the score nicely.
Neil Simon wrote the book, staying true to Billy Wilder’s screenplay for THE APARTMENT, and Hal David wrote the lyrics to Burt Bacharach’s unusual tunes. Unusual because this was not the traditional voice of Broadway at all, yet Bacharach was able to take his pop music style of the day and use it in a theatrical way. Largely thanks to Bacharach, PROMISES, PROMISES has its unique character. The show is a sparkling light in an otherwise disappointing season. And there were two other great musical revivals too, but somehow they couldn’t sell enough tickets to stay open. Revivals of RAGTIME and FINNIAN’S RAINBOW were nothing less than gifts to Broadway, but it was the formerly dated, now suddenly relevant PROMISES, PROMISES that made it through the summer. I believe that this show could stay open with replacement stars. Any number of good people would be successful in it, but sadly, when Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth leave by the end of December the production will call it quits.